The Relapse



  • Sir John Vanbrugh's successful first play, a comedysubtitled Virtue in Danger. It was first performed in 1696at Drury Lane. Vanbrugh wrote the play as an ironic sequel to ColleyCibber's sentimental comedy Love's Last Shift, stagedearlier that year at the same theater. Cibber gave a brilliantperformance as the main character, Lord Foppington (his ownplay's Sir Novelty Fashion).

    The pamphleteer Jeremy Collier was outraged by theFoppington character and specifically attacked Vanbrugh (along withCongreve) in his influential A Short View of the Immorality ofthe English Stage (1698). When Sheridan rewrote The Relapseas a musical play, A Trip to Scarborough (1777), he eliminatedmuch of Vanbrugh's bawdiness for the more prudish audience of hisday. Vanbrugh's original has enjoyed many revivals in the 20th century,including an RSC production in 1967 at the Aldwych Theatre.

    The play has two plots. The first involves Loveless, a reformedphilanderer, who is now living peacefully in the country with hiswife, Amanda. He accompanies her to London and suffers a relapse whenhe meets a young widow, Berinthia. Worthy, Berinthia's former lover,discovers that the rake has returned to his old ways and prevailson her to disclose Loveless's infidelity. In this way he hopes toalienate Amanda from her husband and seduce her himself. Amanda, however,remains loyal and virtuous.

    The second (and more amusing) plot concerns the monstrousLord Foppington, who has bought his title and wants a wealthy wifeto go with it. He arranges to marry an heiress but before he can meether his younger brother, Young Fashion, who also wants the woman'smoney, arrives on the scene pretending to be Lord Foppington and marriesher in secret. When the real Foppington arrives to claim his bridehe is thought to be the impostor and is accused of impersonating himself.